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15 August 2019

Drug related deaths are a preventable tragedy, says Addaction

Addaction, a leading drug and alcohol charity, has described today’s drug related death statistics as a preventable tragedy.

Today’s statistics, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), show that there were 4,359 deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales in 2018. This is the highest figure since records began and the highest annual increase since the time series began in 1993. 

  • 2,208 of all drug poisonings involved an opiate -  51% of all drug related deaths.
  • Male drug related deaths have doubled since 1993 and are 2.5 times greater than females.
  • The North East has significantly higher drug related death rates than any other English region or Wales. 
  • Deaths involving cocaine doubled between 2015 and 2018.

Mike Dixon Chief Executive for drug and alcohol charity Addaction said:

“It’s a very tough day for families and those of us who work in drug treatment. We knew many of those who died and we remember them. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable. We already know what makes a difference to people who are struggling in the deepest end of life. 

“First, people who use opiates like heroin need easy access to quality treatment in their own communities. This means the right dose of a replacement medication and an experienced key worker to support and listen to them.

"Second, we need to invest more in community outreach. Many local services have faced cutbacks and the reality is that outreach services barely exist anymore. We need to go where people are. When we wait for people to come to us, too many of them don’t make it.

“Third, we need a national push to promote the overdose reversal drug Naloxone. It needs the same status and visibility of defibrillators. It is a safe, effective, life saving tool and we need to get people trained and carrying Naloxone all over the country.

“Fourth, the rise in cocaine deaths shows treatment services need to do more to reach out to this group. There’s an idea that people have to hit  ‘rock bottom’ to access support and most people who use cocaine don’t consider themselves in this category. We need to shift this narrative to get more people into treatment that we know can save lives.”

Dixon said that while crisis management measures are vital, we need to do more ‘upstream’ to prevent drug related deaths.

“These are crisis measures. They are urgent and necessary. But we will only make real progress if we tackle poverty and disadvantage in our communities. Too many of us have lives that are hard from the first day. 

“People whose lives are defined by trauma will often turn to drugs to find solace and relief. This is a reality that needs to be faced or those of us who work at the front line will be forever in crisis mode.”